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Speaker: The purpose of science and its limits

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  • Ian Dalziel,

    Gene genie…
    Communication and information are at the heart of all processes, whether it is the code of language, or the code of chemistry and physics – we, and all that surrounds us, are byproducts of those interactions, not the other way round, as human hubris often insists.

    You (we) have quite the battle ahead, but don’t ever give it up, even just one changed / illuminated mind is worth it…

    I am currently enjoying reading Philip Ball’s Stories of the invisible a guided tour to molecules – it puts things in perspective…

    9.21, is that the time!?
    I’d best go put some energy into colony that allows ‘me’ to exist…
    aka breakfast!

    :- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Simon Lamb's film Thin Ice is an excellent film in its own right, but it is also a clear explanation of the work and value of scientists. I'd recommend it.

    My discouragement at the lack of a framework that enables scientists is also real, but it isn't from disappointment. I've been pleasantly surprised because I thought things would be significantly worse at this point in time.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Scientific knowledge is increasing rapidly, and none of us can be experts on everything. So we need resources to support accurate reporting of scientific issues, and we need to find ways to communicate the value, if not the infallibility, of scientific opinion based on scientific fact.

    This.

    And also a recognition that we need lots of different kinds of this, because what works in communication for one group is boring as hell, or worse, obnoxious and aggravating to another group.

    But we also need some help, in particular from the MSM. Because as much as we as scientist are really trying to make sense to our audiences, if the MSM insists on playing silly buggers with disinformation then there is very little we can do to counteract that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Hendy, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But we also need some help, in particular from the MSM.

    Unfortunately I don't think the MSM is not going to come to our rescue any time soon - not until they've found a new business model that can support quality journalism over click bait. For now I would say our best assets are the Science Media Centre and those scientists, like Siouxise Wiles, Mark Quigley etc, who are prepared to go to the help of the media when needed. We'd do well to support these folks as much as we can.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2009 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Shaun Hendy,

    Unfortunately I don’t think the MSM is not going to come to our rescue

    I think you're right. And I do think the current batch of voices are making inroads. But it is depressing when we're faced with The Economist reporting a good news story about the reduction in carbon emissions as a result of GM crops with the headline "Frankenfoods reduce global warming"

    We’d do well to support these folks as much as we can.

    Any time - except raid night :).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    But we also need some help, in particular from the MSM. Because as much as we as scientist are really trying to make sense to our audiences, if the MSM insists on playing silly buggers with disinformation then there is very little we can do to counteract that.

    This is one of the reasons I believe that it is absolutely essential that we have a publicly funded broadcaster with a mandate to inform and educate. The ABC's Catalyst is only an hour a week, but it means that a very large part of the population have access to scientific thinking, and a smaller section of the population are informed by Australian and international research on a given issue. So when drought or concussion or whatever issue of interest is discussed in public, a good number of people have at least an inkling of facts and the ways in which an issue is considered. My own anecdotal experience is that this matters.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Jack Heinemann,

    There is a lot happening in the sector on academic freedom. The new group Academic Freedom Aotearoa is grappling with many of these issues and would welcome contributions to its blog series. http://academicfreedom.kiwi.nz/

    Seems that much emphasis in science communication is lately incentivising professional scientists to communicate. There is a role for this to be sure. However, I think there is the naive expectation that if scientists speak people will listen. It may take more than that and the scientific community must be as attentive as it expects society to be.

    The 'science' (and technology) voice, whatever that really is, is also just one of many academic voices. I would hope that in our efforts to raise the profile of the scientist and science message we do not stifle these other voices.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    And it doesn’t help to not have teachers with the skills to sift woo from evidence based medicine or leave what skills they do have at the school gate on the way to the classroom.

    “Teachers trial flu jab alternatives"

    It saddens me after 43 years involved in science, technology and research to see good people wasted. It astounds me that we can throw corporate memory and years of skill acquisition to the wolves of competitive funding. It pisses me off watching govt after govt perpetuating the myth that every research project will – by definition – be ending in a raging commercial success with millionaires on every corner. Even worse, I am deeply concerned that scientists are forced to project such outcomes in their bids to have any chance of even having their bid considered. It staggers me that we have to try and demonstrate the “purpose of science and it’s limits” to 50+ year old adults.

    It frightens me that yet again, another generation of kids will emerge from their education cycle without knowing what is the “Purpose of science and it’s limits”.

    I’m tired of it. I really really am.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Apocalypses notwithstanding, the alternative may well be the future Walter M Miller Jr creates in A Canticle for Leibowitz

    Set in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the Southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.

    download audio or ebook here

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Jack Heinemann, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    I just bought that book on your recommendation Ian. (I like paper).

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    For those finding themselves a little rage deficient this weekend.

    Gah. That's all I'm going to say. There's just too much to rant about.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Gah. That’s all I’m going to say.

    Joyce applies the same logic that sees the Canterbury Museum doubling its entry fee 'because' of dropping visitor numbers...

    ...go figure!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Thanks Chris Waugh for pointing out the article. I had no inkling BTW.

    If you believe Joyce, it's not an arm-wrestle over how many engineers and ag scientists we need versus philosophers and poets, but a struggle for international competitiveness - both for our universities and economy.

    Steven Joyce's latest his "levering" of STEM is like the latest song on one of his radio stations play lists. It is watching it rise, letting it shine and then get it chucked out when the next "hot item" turns up.

    Phil O'Reilly is turning into a windsock. It was (only) a few years ago that he was on the panel that decided that an ATI should be established based around IRL. Funny how he sees himself now in the court of those who see money chucked businesses way and universities should be closely connected to industry.

    Example of airy fairy allocation of resources: According to the Gazetted criteria for "Research and Development Growth Grants" the following is stated:

    While eligibility requires that applicants submit an R&D plan, the merits of the R&D programme described in the plan will not influence eligibility.

    R&D into better magnetic underlays would qualify ??

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Lame stream media...
    in breaking news from the Sydney Morning Herald

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott is poised to break a key election promise by cutting funding to the ABC, with the key question now being how much money should be cut.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    I dunno much about science…
    …but I know what I like.

    …and this is pretty neat!

    3D zoom thru Earthquake data
    more mad molecule maker than shaker

    <click and drag n fingerpad n stuff/old school>

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Lame stream media...
    in breaking news from the Sydney Morning Herald

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott is poised to break a key election promise by cutting funding to the ABC, with the key question now being how much money should be cut.

    Let's see how far that goes to devolving to TVNZ's level. On a brighter note, the Coalition for Better Broadcasting is finally up and running.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Gah. That’s all I’m going to say. There’s just too much to rant about.

    Make a submission to the select committee here: AcademicVoice
    (Only takes a couple of minutes ... and if you can stomach it, tick the option to be heard. You can change your mind on that, but the more voices in front of the select committee the better.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2109 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Make a submission to the select committee here: AcademicVoice

    Thanks, Rob. I'll have a look at submitting. But no need to stomach being heard - I'll still be in Beijing for a few months yet, so that's my excuse for not appearing in front of the select committee.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    For those finding themselves a little rage deficient this weekend.

    Gah. That’s all I’m going to say. There’s just too much to rant about.

    Joyce is just enacting for the Universities everything that National have enacted for all the other R&D funded by the taxpayers. Their logic is that we should be able to do more with less if we stop doing things that have no value (as defined by the dollar value of course).

    It's Friday night drinks logic. Makes perfect sense after a couple of glasses of wine and especially if you never bother to look for any data to contradict.

    Sadly it hasn't worked anywhere that such a directed research path has been followed but the logic looks good enough to avoid having to face the real issue for New Zealand R&D - which is that for the past 20 years successive governments have cut funding in real terms and loaded every research institute with a massive overhead of managers and businessmen intended to make the institutes more efficient. The net result is we have about half the funding in science that NZ needs to keep up with the rest of the world let alone lead it.

    Until a minister finally stands up and says "this crap we've been trying for the last 20 years is all bollocks and we should just put more money in if we want more value out", then we're F*d.

    I know lets run a series of meetings around the country and fly everyone around and talk about science as if we know what we're talking about then we can rename the funding agencies again and pretend we care about NZs future. Nobody will notice we haven't actually made a bit of difference until its time for some more meetings.

    hmmm cynical today I guess

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    IMho, accountants shouldn't run companies, let alone research institutes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 615 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    the real issue for New Zealand R&D

    is that our private sector has never invested their share

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    we can rename the funding agencies again...
    Nobody will notice we haven’t actually made a bit of difference

    Me Sir, me Sir, I know, I know!
    How about - DSIR - Department of Scientific Irrelevance Reduction

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    For those in Australia antsing about Tony Abbott's impending CSIRO cuts, the current situation in NZ is a cautionary tale.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Tony Abbott’s impending CSIRO cuts

    No ASIO cuts though, I'd wager...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Sacha,

    the real issue for New Zealand R&D

    is that our private sector has never invested their share

    That is propaganda by the governments (Labour and National).

    While it is true that business funding is low, the government funding is at best two thirds of the OECD average (depending on how you count it). That's the average!

    All the evidence from overseas shows that business funding only rises after government funding rises so the government(s) pointing the finger at industry is bollocks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

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